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A.J. Hoffman: Preseason fantasy football tiers

Tom Brady is a top tier QB. Photo by Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

One key to winning in your fantasy drafts is not being married to the idea of having a particular player on your team. Unless you have the first pick, no player is guaranteed to you, and even then only one player is guaranteed. Rather than say “I want to build my team around this guy and this guy,” try to put each position group into tiers. If someone you hoped for isn’t available, this will have you a set backup plan at that position. You may also realize that you can take a tier 2 WR over a tier 4 RB, or if your first few tiers at a position start to disappear, you know you need to jump on someone you like with your next pick. Here are my positional tiers heading into draft day. 

QUARTERBACKS

TIER 1

Aaron Rodgers

Tom Brady

Russell Wilson

Unfortunately, I rarely see these types of players in my draft. I tend to wait on quarterback, and these are the names that people will jump on early. Don’t get discouraged. Just improve your team in other spots. 

TIER 2

Cam Newton

Drew Brees

Deshaun Watson

Carson Wentz

There should be a gap between these guys and the first tier, though I am still likely to be waiting a bit. Newton and Watson both have extremely high upside, thanks to their rushing abilities. Brees is almost always a lock for 600 pass attempts per season. Wentz’s health is the biggest question mark on him right now. If healthy, he is solid in this tier. 

TIER 3

Ben Roethlisberger

Kirk Cousins

Philip Rivers

Matt Stafford

Jimmy Garoppolo

Andrew Luck

Matt Ryan

This is usually the tier I am shopping in. These guys should be going late enough that if you take someone with a question mark (Andrew Luck-health/Jimmy G-sustained success), you can afford to take another QB later on as insurance. All of these guys have their warts, but are all capable of putting up Tier 2 numbers if the cards fall right. 

TIER 4

Jared Goff

Dak Prescott

Marcus Mariota

Derek Carr

You are starting to take more risks here, but there is some solid upside, with either potential for big passing seasons from Goff/Carr or bonus rushing points from Mariota/Prescott. 

TIER 5

Patrick Mahomes

Alex Smith

Mitch Trubisky

Blake Bortles

Eli Manning

Case Keenum

Andy Dalton

Here we are talking about guys you are OK with if playing in a 2-QB league. Otherwise these are guys you don’t mind picking up while your top QB has a bye week. 

TIER 6

Jameis Winston

Sam Bradford

Joe Flacco

Tyrod Taylor (maybe not after last night)

Josh Rosen

Sam Darnold

Baker Mayfield

Josh Allen

This tier is filled with guys who may or may not be starting Week 1, and may or may not hold onto their job through the season if they do. These are guys who should go undrafted unless you play in really deep leagues or have 2-QB rules. 

RUNNING BACKS

TIER 1

Todd Gurley

Le’Veon Bell

This is a small tier, and if you play in a PPR format (most leagues play at least .5-PPR at this point), they are even further away from the competition. 

TIER 2

Ezekiel Elliott

David Johnson

Elliott would be tier 1 if he contributed more in the passing game, and Johnson could be tier 1 if he doesn’t show rust after missing basically all of 2017. 

TIER 3

Alvin Kamara

Kareem Hunt

Saquon Barkley

Leonard Fournette

This is a “do you believe the hype” tier. Kamara was such a force last year, and won’t have Mark Ingram to compete for touches with early on, but can he repeat his magical 2017? Is Barkley going to take the NFL by storm and dominate from day 1? Fournette would be in tier 2 but is almost a nil in the passing game. 

TIER 4

Melvin Gordon

Devonta Freeman

Dalvin Cook

Joe Mixon

Christian McCaffrey

Most people seem to be higher on Gordon than I am. The workload will definitely be there, but I just don’t think he is a great player. Mixon and McCaffrey are high upside backs who should see an increase in touches from last season. 

TIER 5

Jordan Howard

Jerick McKinnon

Alex Collins

Kenyan Drake

Jay Ajayi

LeSean McCoy

All of these platers have a high risk of being massively disappointing, although guys like Howard and McCoy could finish the season significantly better than I am projecting here. Drake and Collins will get first looks but will be looking over their shoulders all year. 

TIER 6

Derrick Henry

Lamar Miller

Mark Ingram

Royce Freeman

Tevin Coleman

Rashaad Penny

Ronald Jones

Kerryon Johnson

Marshawn Lynch

Marlon Mack

This is the back end of your RB2 possibilities. Freeman, Penny, Jones and Johnson are all rookies who have a chance to take a bulk of the carries by season’s end. Henry could finish higher if Dion Lewis doesn’t cut into his carries too much. Coleman is one of the best #2s in the league.

TIER 7

Dion Lewis

Rex Burkhead 

Sony Michel

Isaiah Crowell

Jamaal Williams

Carlos Hyde

Chris Thompson

Adrian Peterson

Lots of running back by committee guys here. I wouldn’t feel good about drafting one as a starter, but as bye week filler and injury replacements these guys can contribute just fine. Peterson jumps out as the big name who could do considerably better if the workload is there for him.

TIER 8

Tarik Cohen

Devontae Booker

Samaje Perine 

Giovani Bernard

Duke Johnson, jr. 

Nick Chubb

CJ Anderson

Chris Carson

Peyton Barber

James White

Most of these guys are “cross your fingers” types. They are best drafted as a late round flier or a handcuff to your starter (i.e. Bernard for Joe Mixon).

WIDE RECEIVERS 

TIER 1 

Antonio Brown

DeAndre Hopkins

Odell Beckham, Jr.

Julio Jones

Brown is almost in a tier of his own. These are the WRs that are acceptable to draft in round 1. 

TIER 2

AJ Green

Michael Thomas

Mike Evans 

Davante Adams

Tyreek Hill

You can still feel good if this is your WR1. Guys like Evans and Hill have QB questions but are unquestionably talented. 

TIER 3

TY Hilton

Keenan Allen

Stefan Diggs

Doug Baldwin

Amari Cooper

Here is the WR1/WR2 border group. If these are your #2 guys, you are extremely strong at the position. If they are your WR1, you will need a solid #2 in the next couple of rounds. 

TIER 4

Adam Thielen

Brandin Cooks

Allen Robinson

Marvin Jones

Demaryius Thomas

Larry Fitzgerald

Golden Tate

JuJu Smith-Schuster

Jarvis Landry

Chris Hogan

This is a big group, and encompasses most of the guys I consider solid WR2 players. 

TIER 5

Alshon Jeffery

Marquise Goodwin

Josh Gordon

Corey Davis

Devin Funchess

These are the other guys I would feel OK about as WR2. Goodwin has a chance to have a breakout season. Gordon is obviously capable of blowing up if he can stay away from blowing smoke. 

TIER 6

Julian Edelman

Sammy Watkins

Robby Anderson

Cooper Kupp

Robert Woods

Randall Cobb

Emmanuel Sanders

Marqise Lee

Nelson Agholor

This is essentially where my group of WR3 possibilities ends in an ideal world. If you have these guys as bench depth, your WR group is extremely strong. 

TIER 7

Kelvin Benjamin

Kenny Golladay

Will Fuller V

Michael Crabtree

Kenny Stills

Sterling Shepard

Jordy Nelson

Jamison Crowder

Pierre Garcon

Allen Turns

Tyler Lockett

DeSean Jackson

Richard Matthews

This is my first level of bench WRs. These guys are also decent FLEX plays if you are weak at RB. 

TIER 8

DJ Moore

DeVante Parker

Mohamed Sanu

Mike Wallace

Paul Richardson

Jermaine Kearse

Terrance Williams

Calvin Ridley

Christian Kirk

Danny Amendola

Ryan Grant

Mike Williams

Courtland Sutton

John Ross

These guys are late round fliers. You can’t count on production every week out of these guys, but these guys are solid enough to fill out your roster with. Some guys, like Ridley and Ross are regarded as top level prospects and could end up as gold. 

TIGHT ENDS

TIER 1 

Rob Gronkowski

Yep. Just him. You can draft him as early as round 2 because he is a class ahead of the field in the weakest division, and can give you close to the same numbers as a RB or WR in the same range. Only question with him is health. 

TIER 2

Travis Kelce

Zach Ertz

These two have closed the gap somewhat on Gronk, and if you are not looking to use a top three pick on a tight end, these guys can still get you solid productivity. 

TIER 3

Greg Olsen

Jimmy Graham

Jordan Reed

Kyle Rudolph

Delanie Walker

The drop from tier 2 to 3 is massive, and if you don’t get one of the top 3 guys, you would be wise to wait a while to grab your guy. Graham could have a strong year if Rodgers uses him in the red zone. Reed has the best potential of this tier, but the most health concerns. 

TIER 4

Trey Burton

Evan Engram

David Njoku

Jack Doyle 

Cameron Brate

These guys are less proven and More of an upside play. More high risk than tier 3, but could easily meet their production. 

TIER 5

Tyler Eifert

Eric Ebron

Ryan Griffin

Jared Cook

OJ Howard

This isn’t ideal, but some of these guys could be serviceable if you don’t want to invest in a crapshoot position.

DEFENSE/ST

TIER 1

LA Rams

Jacksonville

Minnesota

Philadelphia

TIER 2

LA Chargers

Baltimore

Denver

Houston

TIER 3

Pittsburgh

Seattle

Carolina

New Orleans

TIER 4

New England

Dallas

Detroit

Kansas City

Atlanta

Chicago

Tennessee

KICKERS

TIER 1

Stephen Gostkowski

Justin Tucker

Greg Zuerlein

TIER 2

Harrison Butler

Wil Lutz

Jake Elliott

Matt Bryant

Josh Lambo

Chris Boswell

Graham Gano

TIER 3

Robbie Gould

Matt Prater

Mason Crosby

Dan Bailey

Adam Vinatieri

Caleb Sturgis

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Let's make a deal. Photo by Getty Images. Composite image by Brandon Strange.

The NFL trade deadline is less than a week away, and the Houston Texans have a significant decision to make regarding their franchise star, J.J. Watt. The Texans are 1-6 through the first seven games of the season, and the next few years of the franchise seem a bit bleak.

No player or staff member has encapsulated Houston's frustration quite like Watt. Excluding the Texans' victory over the Jaguars, the future Hall of Famer has looked miserable in every post-game press conference. Each week, it's the constant look of despair. And in hindsight, closing the chapter on Watt's career in Houston seems to be best for both parties.

At 31-years-old, the All-Pro defensive tackle should be spending the twilight of his career competing for Super Bowls — not playing for a team who is clearly about to hit the reset button at the conclusion of this season.

By departing from Watt, it would allow the Texans to get a jumpstart on their rebuilding project — one that has the potential to bring back quality draft picks, a young prospect, and clear close to $20 million in cap space.

If they decide not to move on from Watt, the Texans risk putting themselves in a situation where they may miss out on obtaining higher draft picks and strapped for cash heading into the 2021 free agency market. And with one year left on his contract following 2020, the Texans also risk losing leverage in a potential deal if forced into trading Watt come next season.

At this stage of his career, the Texans may not receive a haul for Watt's services but could maximize his trade value by dealing him to a championship-contending team. A move that would give Watt the best chances of adding a championship title to his luxurious resume in return.

With the future of the franchise in mind, here are three potential trade ideas that would be best if the Texans are truly considering moving on from Watt.

Watt returns home to Wisconsin and joins the Packers

Texans receive: 2021 first-round pick and LB Kamal Martin

Packer receive: J.J. Watt

The Green Bay Packers are one of a handful of teams who has a realistic chance to stamp their ticket to Super Bowl LV. Following a win over the Texans on Sunday, the Packers stand first in the NFC North with a 5-1 record and possess one of the NFL's best offensive teams.

Green Bay's offense can compete in a shootout with just about any team in the league, but their defense may be the reason why they fall short of representing the NFC in Tampa Bay come February. They have only accumulated a total of 10 quarterback hits and are currently 30th in the league in pass rush through the first six games. The Packers' lack of ability to get to the opposing team's quarterback could be an immense problem during a playoff game that could feature Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Russell Wilson.

So what do the Packers have to lose by acquiring their Wisconsin native?

The addition of Watt would allow the Packers to add one of the best pass rushers of all-time. Although Watt is nowhere near the player that finished second behind Aaron Rogers for league MVP honors in 2015, he has illustrated that he is still a disruptive defensive lineman five years later.

Through the first seven games, Watt has accounted for 11 pressures, six quarterback hits and three sacks — which would make him Green Bay's second most reliable pass rusher trailing only Za'Darius Smith.

For the Texans, receiving a first-round pick for Watt is self-explanatory and would be the most suitable return for the aging star. However, for a team that is building for the future, the Texans should consider obtaining a young and raw prospect to evaluate.

Kamal Martin, a fifth-round draft selection in 2020, made his NFL debut against the Texans on Sunday and left an exceptional first impression. He recorded six tackles and one tackle for loss in 29 snaps inside NRG Stadium, and could be a building block should the Texans begin to make modifications to their linebacking corps.

Seattle sends multiple draft picks for Watt

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and fourth-round pick

Seahawks receive: J.J. Watt

If the Packers do not take advantage of improving their pass rush with Watt — perhaps the Seattle Seahawks will. Both NFC teams mirror each other with a high-powered offense, but a feeble defense may hinder one another from advancing to the Super Bowl. In a deal for Watt to the Seahawks, the Texans would miss out on the chance to acquire a first-rounder, but obtaining multiple picks would be just as prominent.

Seattle's general manager John Schneider is no stranger to taking a significant risk, and appears willing to make any moves that will put his organization closer to their long-overdue second title with Russell Wilson. Perhaps, Watt would be that missing key.

The Seahawks are pretty solid at stopping the run but need a tremendous upgrade in their pass defense. Seattle has given up the second-most passing yards on the season (2,212), and the reason seems to be their inability to get to the quarterback. Seattle has only implemented pressure to the opposing team's quarterback on 20.1% of their dropbacks, while only recording a total of nine sacks.

The Seahawks pass defense may not become elite, but the disruption of Watt on their defensive line could be enough to limit the devastation they have experienced through the first seven weeks of the season.

Watt to the Big Easy for Brees' last dance

Texans receive: 2021 second-round pick and Marcus Davenport

Saints receive: J.J. Watt

Seven weeks into the season, the New Orleans Saints are not sitting near the top of the NFC nor their division when compared to recent years. A bevy of injuries have been attributed to their minor decline this season — mainly to their All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas.

However, the Saints have prevailed through the injury bug to march their way to a 4-2 record. If New Orleans can get healthy during the second half of the season, they will be in the running to represent the NFC in Tampa Bay for Super Bowl LV. But unlike the Packers and Seahawks, this could be the Saints last chance to recapture the Vince Lombardi Trophy in what is likely Drew Brees' last dance.

The addition of Watt to the Saints would give general manager Mickey Loomis a chance to create the most disruptive defensive line in the league. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen would be able to shift the five-time Pro-Bowler to the interior — allowing the Saints to trot out a d-line of Watt, Cameron Jordan and Trey Hendrickson.

This trade would give Watt arguably the most help he has ever had on the defensive line — which would allow New Orleans to maximize what is left of his career.

This trade would have the Texans missing out on obtaining a first-rounder, but a sound-round pick would be just as valuable for Watt. However, Houston should consider adding a young prospect in a potential swap, and Marcus Davenport would be their best return.

Drafted in 2018, Davenport is a former first-round talent who can help transition the Texans into the post-Watt era. He has showed promise of a bright future through his first two seasons, but injuries have prevented the 24-year-old prodigy of San Antonio from establishing himself as one of the league's top young talents.

This season, elbow and toe injuries have limited Davenport to just a pair of games in 2020. Although there is an immense concern regarding Davenport's health, the Texans cannot pass on adding a player who has already registered 11.5 sacks and 31 quarterback hits through his first 28 career games.

Coty M. Davis is a reporter for ESPN 97.5 Houston/SportsMap covering the Houston Texans. He is also the co-host of Locked On Texans, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network. Follow Coty on Twitter @CotyDavis_24.

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